Sunday, October 02, 2011

PBS airs Ken Burns's "Prohibition": air times changed, however

Most viewers probably know that Ken Burns is airing his new documentary, “Prohibition”, approximately six hours (actually less), Sun-Tues Oct 4-6 on major PBS stations, with re-airs the following afternoons. There was some confusion as to air time of Part 1, "A Nation of Drunkards". Newspapers printed it as 8 and 10 PM on the East Coast (two performances), but it actually started a bit earlier.

Temperance movements had started before the Civil War, in in the later 19th Century, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union was explosively viral (even without an Internet), starting in Ohio. In Kansas, one woman went around taking a hatchet to saloons and signs were posted denying her entry.

The in Oberlin, Ohio another anti-saloon league started. Again, it was amazingly effective.  Brewers, many of them from Germany, organized to buy off politicians and even paid newspapers to write “wet” editorials (so much for objective journalism).

Eventually, as we know, national prohibition was implemented by the 18th Amendment.

The documentary explains the collectivist nature of moral thinking, where alcohol was seen as destroying families or society (or undermining the labor force or enticing revolt), and was not looked out in modern libertarian terms of harmlessness – but today those lines of thought don’t apply to other substances, like marijuana.

The website link is here

The “Prohibition” would set a psychological paradigm for other areas, like gay rights, through much of the 20th Century, where writer Andrew Sullivan often described a “prohibitionist” paradigm.

Here is a 26-minute preview from PBS.


The second part, "A Nation of Scofflaws" looked at the way Prohibition drove illegal activity underground and led to the rise of organized crime as it would dominate the 20th Century.  In Chicago, voters were actually beaten for showing up at the wrong primaries.  The Volstead Act, which "enforced" the Amendment, was written in a way to allow a lot of private workarounds. But occasionally bosses got caught; one had all his belongings sold underneath him by a disloyal wife while he was in prison.

The third part is called "A Nation of Hypocrites".  The Great Depression was being made worse by Prohibition, and people woke up to the idea that they didn't need to tell government how to live all the time, just because of the weakest.

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